Thursday, June 24, 2010

Virginia's First Lady fondly remembers her dad

Francis ‘Frank’ V. Gardner
December 2, 1922 - June 19, 2010

Frank Gardner was born in Virginia on December 2nd, 1922. His father died when he was only two years old. His mother, Marie B. Gardner, of Falls Church, was one of the first WWII WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, with the US Navy. Dad had two sisters. His younger sister, Mary Shannon, is still living in Vienna, and his older sister was a Sister of Charity and died several years ago.

Dad attended primary schools in Virginia and became an Eagle Scout at age thirteen. Even as a young boy he particularly loved birds, songs, and storytelling. He could identify most birds by sight and sound, and he never lost his love of singing and telling stories.

After high school Dad headed to Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland. However, as was the case for so many in his generation, his college studies were interrupted by World War II. Dad was just 19 when he left school to join the Marine Corps. He served as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps for almost four years during the war.

Dad fought in the bloodiest battles in the Pacific theater, including Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Records show that he was one of the last surviving veterans of all three battles. In the years to follow he would talk to us some about the war. I’ll never forget his stories about Keynote, the dog he saved and adopted in Saipan.

What he didn’t do was talk much about the ugly side of war. My Dad had seen some of the bloodiest combat of the entire period. He said, he "...didn't want to put those thoughts and images into people’s heads." And yet, we all knew that he suffered from those memories, because he would sometimes awake with loud yells during the night.

When Dad came back from the war, he went right back to school and completed his Bachelors Degree at Mount St. Mary's, majoring in History and English. Dad was a grammarian, and throughout our lives he schooled us in history and he always corrected our verbal and written grammar.

After graduation he went to work for the FBI and was sent to New York and Cleveland. The stop in Ohio turned out to be an important one; because it was there that he met his future bride, our Mom, Gerry, who was working for the FBI as a stenographer. They were married and he brought Mom back to Virginia to meet his family, and start their own. It ended up being a big one! Mom and Dad would have nine children, seven girls and two boys. Ours was never a quiet home!

Dad served a total of thirteen years with the FBI before leaving to become a Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State. In 1966, he moved all of us to Mexico for six years to work in three different cities (Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua; Hermosillo, Sonora; Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas) as an American Consul, and later he served as Chief Administrative Officer for the American Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It was Dad’s postings in another country that gave all of us the opportunity to see more of our own. As we made our way to and from his assignments we would all load up into a Mercury Colony Park station wagon, pulling a large travel trailer. We sang songs, played license plate and I Spy games, motioned for trucks to blow their air horns as they passed rest stops, and visited extended family members and our great national wonders. Dad finally retired from the Department of State after 30 years of service.

Except for his years in the Pacific Theatre, a few out-of-state assignments with the FBI, and his State Department assignments, Dad was a life-long resident of northern Virginia. He loved the Redskins, and he loved Notre Dame.

Dad was also a self-published author, having written five books relating to family history, the war, and his poetry. These were initially for the benefit of his offspring, but now are available for all. One of his books, Landing Force 48, is currently in the printing process and all proceeds will benefit the Ellen Gardner Breathe Fund.

Throughout his life, and especially over the past year, he continued to tell stories and sing songs to anyone willing to listen. And last year, at age 86, Dad tried something new: politics! He was one of the Star Volunteers on the campaign trail for his son-in-law, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Mom’s passing last year left a void in all our lives. Dad missed Mom. We all do. Now Dad is with Mom again. And we miss them both. Frank Gardner was a good man, who loved his family, loved this country, and led a solid, productive and remarkable life.

One of my Dad’s favorite songs was "Leader of the Band" by Dan Fogelberg. And the lyrics below speak directly to how I will always remember him.

I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road;
I thank you for the freedom
When it came my time to go;
I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough;
And papa I don't think I said
"I love you" near enough.

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